Noodles, rice fields and a side trip

Long before we left for Bali, I had a (stupid) dream. It was to buy Super-mi (a type of instant noodles produced in Indonesia) ever since I last ate them while visiting a friend in Melbourne in 2003. It was a silvery packet with a road-duck flavour, and since tasting them, I was completely lost and raged against the dying light and the dawning day when I simply couldn’t find them anywhere else. Weeks before we departed, I dreamt again that TC had already bought his box, while I struggled to buy my own. I related this very earnestly to TC, explained that I really needed the noodles after those years of deprivation, and after laughing his head off, he agreed that this request wasn’t actually too frivolous after all.

It was just that we needed to slot some time in trying to source for those noodles and that time never seemed better than when we decided to do a half-day tour around eastern Bali. After all, we were satisfied that we looked quite carefully in Ubud only to come back disappointed.

It seems like I did not have to think so hard about hiring a decent driver after all. The criteria I had initially mentally listed and stored were: trustworthy, owns an equally trustworthy vehicle, peaks a smattering of English, knowledgeable enough to tailor a suitable itinerary, preferably non-smoking, looks “un-seedy”.

Maybe the last part was asking a bit too much. It took me a long time after all, to get over the fact that many people smoke.

On the way to town in the resort shuttle service, I asked the driver if he knew anyone who was good with side-trips, and rambled about needing to find a driver who most importantly, had an air-conditioned van.

Wayan was thus first introduced to us not as a person, but through his vehicle, a nondescript white jeep parked halfway on the pavement.

I fired off just 2 places – Kintamani and Sidemen road – that we were both interested in seeing. After thinking for a moment, Wayan suggested we try Tegallalang (where the rice terraces were), Tampak Siring (a small eco-plantation to have a look at native plants), Kintamani (the mountainous area with a view of the volcano Gunung Batur), and finally the Sidemen regency with purportedly even more views. A bit of haggling lowered the price slightly from 500,000 IDR to 400,000 IDR for the places we wanted to visit and though it was a fair bit more pricey than I was willing to pay, we agreed, and it was off for a half-day around the eastern part of Bali.

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The rice terraces of Tegallalang was the first brief stop, and while it was an experience seeing Secondary School human geography finally coming to life many years too late, I suspect I was more horrified to see young boys riding scooters and motorbikes helmet-less by the droves for some part of the way. I recall asking TC in incredulity if I was really seeing a boy on top of one.

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For all our preparation and rush to leave the resort at 10am, we forgot the much-needed insect repellent, only beginning to regret it when we entered the eco-plantation at Tampak Siring. I was blood-sucked quite a fair bit while TC escaped completely. The rather fun activities there – sampling drinks, identifying seedlings, browsing the small shop of spices and scents – almost made me forget the itch, but not quite. On hindsight, perhaps we were foolish to think that the vanilla pods, and some instant lemongrass drink/ginseng coffee powder were worth the amount we were paying to bring back for the respective mothers.

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We zipped around the mountain road through Kintamani – thank god for the brief respite from the heat in the cooler air uphill – and I started to ask whether the Bersakih Temple Complex was worth a visit.

“The place [Besakih] nice,” Wayan replied, “But the people not nice. They offer guide, make you pay money. Follow you long.”

“Oh.”

“If you want, I take you there,” Wayan insisted, “I try help you with bad people.”

I eye-balled TC pleadingly, hoping that he would ask Wayan about our ludicrous request for instant noodles. He sighed in acknowledgement.

“Er…Do you know where we can find super-mi?” TC asked somewhat nervously. I was certain that Wayan’s eyes would have popped out of his sockets at this absurd request from the odd pair behind.

“Many kinds of noodles!” To his credit, Wayan did not sound too shell-shocked. “Mi-Sedap, Indo-mie…”

“No, no, must only be super-mi,” TC insisted.

“Ubud no find? So you no want Sidemen road?”

“Yah, we want the Sidemen road, Ubud don’t have!”It seems that our language abilities had to be adjusted accordingly.

He relented, and promised that we could make our way to KlungKlung (Semarapura) after we finished touring the Sidemen regency.

Satisfied for now, I asked if there was a Warung anywhere near so that we could stop for a quick lunch.

Wayan answered in the definite negative, and told us that in the rural areas of the region we were visiting, there was one and only one restaurant opened by Europeans. The alternative was to settle for road-side stalls whose food as he put it, had been displayed for days and probably illness-inducing.

We reluctantly agreed simply because of the lack of available choices, and had to admit that the site they chose pretty much guaranteed them a monopoly of business for miles around. Our first view of the restaurant however, was that of the queue of Western tourists waiting to pose with a blue statue of a Hindu god that took the form of an elephant whose snout was noticeably glued back. We sat in a quiet area with ridiculous views of the terraces, and snorted with amusement when I told TC that the Western tourists seemed more interested in the Balinese performance at the far side of the restaurant than in having their meals.

The Sidemen area was the last activity of the day and despite our determination not to pack activities, we seemed to move speedily from place to place, refusing to stop unnecessarily to the point that Wayan asked if we were in a rush for other things. Sidemen was gorgeous, and the mountain roads that Wayan took were obscure but picturesque, and sometime unfamiliar to the driver himself.

I got impatient, despite the surrounding greenery. Truth be told, my noodles were waiting. Waiting to buy Super-mi, as I told TC, was the fulfilment of my life’s dream up until that point. TC laughed and fretted whether 100,000 IDR was enough to spend on noodles. I think I became visibly excited as KlungKlung came into view. I scrambled out of the car just as it stopped and made a beeline for the supermarket that Wayan pointed to, feeling wondrously pleased as we cradled our packets of instant noodles as though they were precious gems to the cashier. They turned out way cheaper than we thought and the careful packing we needed to do for those fragile packets momentarily eluded me. That silvery packet still eluded us; the supermarket had the plastic packaged ones with similar flavours to the Indo-Mie – but that had to do for now.

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